My grandfather has stopped eating, and I feel nothing.
I grew up with my grandparents; I shared the basement of my house with them. I remember sleeping with my grandmother as a toddler, the way I would hold her hand and rub the skin between her fingers as I closed my eyes. I recall sharing some of my writing with my grandfather in elementary school, how he would look up from his newspapers and almanacs and smile whenever I brought him an essay or a book report. Sometimes I would brush right by my grandparents on my way to play, or I would ignore them when I read my books. As a self-centered kid, I took them for granted, even though they cared for me more than my biological parents.
My grandparents always loved my father. Even though they raised my mom, they cherished my dad as their stepson, praising his hard work and his resilience in the face of my mother. As a kid, I did not understand why they favored him so much over all of their other step-children. But now, as I see my grandparents fade before my eyes, I also detect why they adored my dad: because he chose strength in the face of adversity, and he always led with virtue and diligence, no matter how hard his struggles.
In a recent interview, Meghan Trainor said she did not have the “strength” to develop an eating disorder. Demi Lovato, the goddess of pop and an inspiration in terms of mental health awareness, knocked Trainor down by tweeting that “strength is when are able to overcome your demons after being sick and tired for so long.” Lovato captures the concept of strength so well: strength does not mean experiencing struggle. Strength means fighting through your struggle, overcoming your struggle, thriving despite your struggle, and living, even when life gets really, really hard.
In high school, I had an eating disorder. Having an eating disorder did not make me strong. I do not want anyone to pity me or to praise me because I experienced an eating disorder. I would rather people notice what I have chosen to do despite my eating disorder and my past struggles – that I work two jobs that involve helping people, that I advocate for mental health awareness, that I spend all of my time studying or listening to my friends or taking care of those around me. My strength stems from my actions, from the decisions I have made and the accomplishments that I have achieved; I make my own strength every day when I fight to learn and research about mental health, when I wake up and know that I will apply 100% of myself to all that I do.
In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, writes that “everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” People do not choose cancer or sexual assault or death; they choose compassion, they choose to speak out, and they choose to keep living no matter how hard life gets.
My grandfather has stopped eating, and I will see him next week for Thanksgiving. As I write this, tears prick the backs of my eyes, and my fingers shake across my smooth, black keyboard. But my tears do not give me strength. After I post this, I will make plans to visit my family, I will read and learn about race in American history, and I will go for a jog. My feet will pound the pavement, and I will breathe in the cool, crisp November air. No one will help me stretch after the first mile; no one will reward me for my grandparents’ inevitable deaths. I will make my grandparents proud with my choices. I will make my own strength.
First blog post in over a month, sorry about that guys – this semester has been hectic. How have you dealt with the deterioration of family or friends, or tough stuff in life in general? What have you been reading or occupying your time with this November? If you want, you can check out my reviews of Pointe by Brandy Colbert, The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, and Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay here, here, and here respectively. I hope you all have a productive week!